The Magic Beans – Page 67



At last Perilous Jack reaches the edge of the acid pool described by the Druid.

He understands now the Druid’s use of the word ‘island’ to describe his objective. He can see a single GreenShaft standing in a circular section of land, heavily defended by Bullet Launchers. Around the island is a circular moat of bubbling green acid, then another strip of land likewise defended by Bullet Launchers, and a second, much wider moat of acid, at the edge of which he now stands.

A bridge of sorts leads across the acid – three solitary CacheStones suspended scant inches above the surface of the pool. The gaps between the CacheStones are wide, and one is currently occupied by a Pinch Slug. Rust Birds sweep and dive through the air, cawing restlessly. Overhead, pieces of ancient masonry hover, and Jack can see the pincers of more Pinch Slugs poking out over the broken edges of the stone. Doubtless they are waiting for prey to attempt the crossing, so they can fall upon them. He knows the slugs are immune to the acid and have nothing to fear if they fall and miss. And to compound matters, a Bullet Launcher is set up on the far side of the moat, at precisely the correct height to strike anyone standing upon the CacheStones. This will not be easy.

Jack considers the situation for a moment, and then smiles tightly to himself. He rummages in his pouch and withdraws a small steel knife, which he generally keeps to slice bread and cut rope. He draws the blade from its sheath and waves it around in the air a few times to get the scent moving on the wind. The nearest Rust Bird, heretofore occupied with angrily diving and screaming at nothing in particular, catches the scent of steel and cocks an eye in his direction. Jack holds the knife ready, withholding his action until precisely the right moment. The Rust Bird, tired of waiting for its morsel, begins to dive – the Bullet Launcher powers up to fire – and Jack flings the knife.

End over end the blade tumbles – the Rust Bird dives – the Black Bullet leaps into existence. The blade sinks into the Pinch Slug on the CacheStone just as the Rust Bird reaches it; the Bird affixes its claws in the Slug, intent on carrying both away, just as the Black Bullet arrives. A three-way collision ensues; Bird and Bullet topple together, beak and fangs buried in each other’s flesh, into the acid – and the hapless Slug is carried along. Jack leaps – a Slug falls, and he cuts it in half in mid-air – he leaps again and a second Rust Bird dives, intent on consuming his armor. He decapitates the Bird in mid-air and leaps again. A second Black Bullet emerges from the Launcher – he leaps, plants his foot on the Bullet’s back and uses it as a springboard to gain the top of the Launcher. He pauses, turns to watch the bodies rain into the acid, and laughs wildly, safely across the first moat.

“I love my job!” he shouts to the sky.

Turn to 25.